RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Denouncing harsh fatwas and the hard line clerics who issue them has brought fame and possible fortune to one Saudi poet.
Hissa Hilal wowed the judges and the audience to become only the second woman to make the finals in the Arab world's popular program "Million's Poet." The show is similar to "American Idol," but contestants recite poetry in the traditional Bedouin style.
Hissa Hilal's verses describe extreme clerics and fatwas as, quote, "wearing death as a dress and covering it with a belt," as in suicide belt.
She's now in Abu Dhabi preparing for next week's final vote on poetry she knows is risky to recite in public.
Ms. HISSA HILAL (Poet): I have been writing since I was 12 years old, and I thought I have something to say to the people. If I don't do it this year, I think I'm not going to do it in my life.
MONTAGNE: What was it that you wanted to communicate? Because your poem, it's quite startling.
Ms. HILAL: Yeah, the people know me when I started as a romantic girl. I used to write mostly about love and about life. But there are certain poems that I wrote strongly. I felt I should have the courage to say it in a strong way. If you say it in a soft way, nobody notice it.
MONTAGNE: In translations of the poem that got you to the finals, which of course will lose the full power of the language. But for our...
Ms. HILAL: Yeah, of course.
MONTAGNE: But for our listeners to get an idea of what you were saying, I understand you recited such lines as: I have seen evil in the eyes of fatwas. It's a very strong message.
Ms. HILAL: No. You have to be (unintelligible) and to say something because I see violence and extremism become more and more strong. I want to give idea about those Arabs who are silent. They are silent but they have the same idea I have.
MONTAGNE: And your family, theyve supported you in this? Because I know you have a husband and children.
Ms. HILAL: Yeah, my husband, he's also a poet. And he said you dont afraid, I will support you as much as I can. Whatever happen to me, okay, I will not care. My poetry will be there.
MONTAGNE: It might be worth pointing out to listeners that there are limits, in one sense, in this competition. You - when you appear on television...
Ms. HILAL: Yes.
MONTAGNE: ...you are fully covered. All one sees is your eyes and hears your voice.
Ms. HILAL: Yes. This is a tradition. If I take it, all the tradition tribes, some of them they would be shocked.
MONTAGNE: If you took off the veil.
Ms. HILAL: Some. Yes, if I took it. I will lose the people, those who I want to talk to them, my people. I don't want to lose them, because I'm going to say important things.
MONTAGNE: How are you feeling about the final round of the competition?
Ms. HILAL: I feel good. I wish I can get the first position.
MONTAGNE: To come first to win.
Ms. HILAL: Yeah, I hope. I want to do it for the sake of all women - Arab and all around the world the world to say there is nothing impossible. If you believe in your heart, you can do it.
MONTAGNE: Hissa Hilal is a finalist in the Arabic television competition "Millions Poet."
Thank you very much for joining us and good luck to you.
Ms. HILAL: Thank you, Renee.
MONTAGNE: And you can watch Hissa Hilal recite her poetry and also the audience's reaction at our Web site, NPR.org.
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